Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Dear Mr Davis:
I noted your internet "Border War Feature - Part Two," including your summary of curator Grady Atwater's remarks concerning the activities of John Brown the abolitionist in Kansas. As a biographer and student of the life and letters of Brown, I think it is important to note that the "standard" version of his role in the Pottawatomie killings is by no means a settled issue despite what is popularly repeated as fact. However I find it curious that Mr. Atwater says that the use of swords in the Pottawatomie killings were in line with Brown's Old Testament views. There is not a shred of evidence favoring this notion and it smacks of "historical improvisation." One of the biggest problems with John Brown's "historical reputation" in this country is the poetic license and mistaken ideas that have become part of his profile in the mainstream record. One of them is this "violent Old Testament" notion that is constantly superimposed on him. There was nothing inherently "Old Testament" about Brown. He was as much a New Testament Christian as his famous Southern Calvinist counterpart, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and many other "Bible Christians" (as they were called in those days) in the North and the South. Brown had no theological obsession with swords or the use of swords and I would ask Mr. Atwater to please call it to my attention if such evidence does exist. Brown did believe there was a certain providential inevitability that injustice would require the shedding of blood, but this was a view that many held once the Civil War had broken, including Julia Ward Howe, whose lyrics in "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" are theologically inspired by John Brown (her husband was an ally of Brown). But that is not the same as saying Brown was obsessed with spilling blood as is popularly conveyed in the media. Certainly John Brown had no fixation on the use of swords either. Not to denigrate Mr. Atwater, whom we esteem for his role as curator of the Oswatomie site, and whom I hope to meet someday soon. I'm sure he knows that the Pottawatomie swords were given to Brown before he came to Kansas. The choice to use them in doing away with those five terrorist collaborators was strictly strategic. The killings were quick and quiet and necessarily so. Some would even say, as did the renowned authority on John Brown, the late Boyd B. Stutler, that those killed were "bad eggs" and that their deaths were good riddance to free state and abolitionist folks in Kansas.
Rev. Louis A. DeCaro Jr., Ph.D.